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Pipeline2, Issue #138

TRADE PAPERBACK REVIEWS

I just saw GODFATHER for the first time ever last week. (So sue me. I didn't turn into a movie lover until I got a DVD player in 1998 and discovered the beauty of a widescreen presentation on your home television set.) It's a great movie and deserving of all the accolades it's received.

[Batman/Huntress #1]On something of a parallel note, I finally read the entirety of DC's BATMAN/HUNTRESS: CRY FOR BLOOD mini-series this past weekend. I'm glad I had the background of mafia practices from the aforementioned movie for the comic. Writer Greg Rucka does a good job of explaining it all as the story goes along, anyway, but it made me feel smarter to know this stuff ahead of time. A trade paperback collecting the six-part mini-series is due out next month. I can definitely recommend it now. It's smart storytelling that's a real page-turner.

It's the story of Helena Bertinelli, a child of the mafia and sometime heroine called The Huntress. The crossbow is her weapon of choice. She's got a darker side, though, and one that needs some explaining. Over the course of the six issues, Rucka puts the character through her paces, sets her against the Bat Family, and teams her up with The Question, of all people, to help sort things out. The story comes around full circle quite nicely, while tying up all of the important loose ends that the story set out to answer. This is relatively early comics work from Greg Rucka. It's amazing to see how quickly he adapted to the medium from prose novel work.

You'll get The Huntress' full origin story here, including the mafia side of the story and the unanswered question as to why she was left to live while the rest of her family was killed. It's a startling turn when the answer is revealed in the last issue. It makes Bertinelli an all the more interesting a character.

Rick Burchett's art is the best I've ever seen from him through the first four issues. The last couple of issues use Terry Beatty on inking duties, no doubt due to deadline pressures at the time. The style shift is noticeable. The subtlety of Burchett's softer ink line is replaces with the careful delineation of Beatty's. Beatty is not a bad inker by any stretch of the imagination. He does wonderful work, for example, over Tim Levins' pencils on BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES every month. His inks on this mini-series, however, are an awkward transition to make two-thirds of the way through the story. It seems strange to use an inker whose regular gig is on an animated-style book to ink over a penciller who's trying to move away from that style of art.

Burchett's got an interesting art style. You might remember him better as an inker in the Giffen-era JLA, or on Dan Jurgens' JLA work. His penciling is best recognized on issues of the animated DC Universe books. He's been doing a lot of fill-in work in the Bat-offices for the past year or so, to mixed results. His "serious" art style is superb when it comes to storytelling. The rigors of telling stories in the animated style pay off here. He even employs some Eisneresque tricks in using panels without borders for flashback sequences and montages.

His weak spot right now comes in some figure work. There are times when characters look stiff or lumpy, usually when drawn from odd camera angles. I know "lumpy" is not the best word in the world to use, but there are panels where characters look stiff and slightly more rounded than they should be. Look at page 4 of this week's NIGHTWING (#66) for a good example of a stiff and lumpy Nightwing. His other problem is that all his characters tend to have enormously full faces. Instead of manly heroes with square jaws, you have manly heroes with melon heads.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent story with nice overall art and great storytelling. Don't let these stylistic nit-picks drive you away from one of the best Batman-related mini-series I've ever read. (Another one of them, ROBIN: YEAR ONE, is being collected in April.)

The whole shebang is collected in the first week of March under one cover for the price of $12.95. I would say it's well worth your time if you're looking for a little mix of mafia politics along with mystery and superheroics.

ZED

[Zed #1]There's time for just one last review. It's one non-trade oriented review that I've been delaying for far too long.

ZED is a self-published (Gagne International Press) bi-monthly black and white series about a smart little alien whose brilliant invention is set to save the galaxy an enormous amount of wasted energy. When it instead blows up a planet full of dignitaries, Zed finds himself alone in a galaxy filled with rising tensions and the unstoppable prospect of war.

Author/artist Michel Gagne is best known for his books of wild animal designs, such as INSANELY TWISTED RABBITS and FRENZIED FAUNA FROM A TO Z. It should come as no surprise, then, that ZED is most remarkable for its sense of design and imagination. The first issue is plotted at a very slow pace to allow Gagne to fit in a wide array of alien life forms. You'll find yourself lingering over pages to take in the oddball creatures and to see everything that's there. It's not necessarily a densely populated artistic style like Geoff Darrow's. It's rather spartan and cartoony, as a matter of fact. But there's a wonderful mix of things to please the eye. In the second issue, the story moves to outer space and allows Gagne to give us a look at his warped spaceship ideas. These are not flying buckets of bolts. These are strange concepts and designs that you'd expect to see at an Olympic Opening Ceremonies or a (theoretical) Frank Lloyd Wright science fiction gallery showing.

[Zed #2]The black and white series is now three issues old, with a fourth on the way in the next couple of months. The story so far is just starting to ramp up to the point where you feel more than just pity or sorrow for the lead character. It's just about to the point where you can start hoping for Zed's exoneration. After all, something went wrong with his invention, but there's no reason it should have. Is there some other malevolent force at work?

ZED is an oddly whimsical series that's not an all ages book, despite its initial look. There's the matter of some language used in the book that would prevent me from recommending it to the little kiddies. This book is more for "mature readers" who are more interested in stylistic art. The story is simple and easy to follow, but looks to be picking up steam and complications.

It's not the most polished bit of writing I've ever read, either. Gagne makes some rookie comic writing mistakes. Coming from an animation background as he does, it's understandable that he includes dialogue to explain everything that's going on. That's what cartoons do. The animated often isn't expressive enough to clearly show what's going on, so the characters have to explain it to the viewers. That's not as necessary in a comic book, where the reader is already paying attention to the page in front of him or her.

[Zed #3]The lettering could use a little help, too. I get the feeling lettering is a new art to Gagne. The font isn't so bad. It's better than Whizbang, at least. It's just that its size varies wildly sometimes, and the layout isn't always optimized.

Overall, though, ZED is a book to keep an eye on. It's a lot of fun to read, with a visual feast for the eyes.

For more information on all of Gagne's books, as well as preview art from the three issues of ZED so far, click on over to the Gagne International Press web site and let your mouse do the walking. The fourth issue is due out next month.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

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